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The Metro experiment is dead: Time to unleash Windows Phone+

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Analysis Is this the moment for Windows Phone 8, the overlooked diamond in the Redmond rough, to shine?

Now that Microsoft bigwigs have realised that cramming their desktop operating system into a touchscreen tablet format was unwise, to put it generously, how about scaling up the smartphone cousin to capture the exploding mobe market and the tablet world? That'll leave desktop users in peace with a desktop OS.

Let's set the scene for this turnaround, and it starts with the dismantling of Metro, the new tablet-friendly Windows 8 frontend: the Charge of the Metro Brigade has been reversed if some non-specific statements from Microsoft marketing executive Tami Reller are to be believed.

Reller suggested the new and controversial touchscreen-driven user interface introduced in Windows 8 will be overhauled. The FT interpreted her remarks as "a U-turn on Windows 8" and a "reverse course". Equally, those on-the-record remarks could be interpreted as a palliative and no more: another "we feel your pain" message to users battling the new Metro veneer.

It's unlikely that such a well-drilled PR operation as Redmond's would send a writer from such a useful conduit as the FT haring down the wrong path. It looks as though Microsoft is preparing for a reverse ferret.

When panic breaks out at Microsoft, the company makes terrible decisions: the "Kill Java" panic of the mid-1990s is an example of the company behaving as if its very existence was at stake, and behaving badly. In 2010, Apple's iPad caused another such fright.

In response, the early strategy was a bold but simple one: encourage third-party developers to create a new library of apps using a central Metro programming interface, allowing the software to run on Windows 8-powered PC desktops, ARM tablets, x86 slabs, laptop hybrids, smartphones and more without a rewrite for each targeted device.

Except it didn't actually turn out that way. Under Windows chief Steven Sinofsky, the Windows 8 desktop team developed a messianic fervour. It became obsessed by distractions such as the Microsoft-specified Surface laptop-tablet computers and the ARM port of Windows 8, Windows RT. The team wouldn't work with the Windows Phone 8 group to develop the crucial common programming interface the aforementioned strategy needed. So write-once run-anywhere was an illusion: three separate and barely compatible code bases are required to develop apps. Microsoft failed to deliver its strategy in the most basic way.

The pain was real enough, though. Windows 8 insisted on replacing the familiar desktop with the Metro screen of noddy widgets, which may look nice on a tablet but is absurd on a 1,900-pixel wide monitor when you're trying to do some work. It simply caused confusion and inconvenience for consumers and enterprise users.

Businesses didn't have the training budget to retrain their staff to use the new Metro interface, or if they did, they were happy to sit on the cash instead. So Microsoft found itself sacrificing an enterprise IT upgrade cycle in order to maintain Metro-everywhere. What Redmond didn't appear to calculate was the damage to the PC market as a whole. Fear and uncertainty over the radical new user interface appears to have played a contributing factor in poor PC sales, if people in the IT distribution channel are to be believed. All the channel wants to do is shift PCs.

Windows obviously gained a slick new touch-friendly interface and runs on all kinds of new devices - some of which aren't actually too bad. Your humble hack is thinking of Lenovo's tablets and particularly its IdeaPad Yoga convertible. It's an OK PC and an OK tablet. Then there's the ARM-powered Surface RT slab. Or anything RT, for that matter. High prices, terrible software, were just two reasons why Windows RT was dead on arrival.

Sinofsky's Surface skateboard

At least former Metro General Steve Sinofsky found a use for a Surface RT device.

Desktop Windows users who don't have a touchscreen will no doubt welcome "a return to a more familiar PC interface" promised to the FT. Critics have admitted all along that without the Metro-first Maoism, Windows 8 is the best version of Windows. In fact, a strategy rethink could be the best thing to happen to Microsoft in a long time.

It even has a handy get-out clause.

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